Monday, August 31, 2015

The Smokey Mountains of Montana

The Smokey Mountains of Montana: It feels odd to sit at the computer trying to write again after a two week hiatis. Write what you know, Mr. Ford used to tell us in 9th grade English class half a century ago. It still applies. I know what I think, and I try to inform myself constantly, to keep current and to challenge my own beliefs. That's all good, as they say. But today I come to you with a firm and wonderful belief that has been reinforced these two past weeks: love is great. Love is fantastic. Love is the elixir that makes life worth living, even when the landscape is on fire. Four of my family members from the Netherlands spent the last thirteen days with Diane and myself, after also spending time with my brother in California. The time was too short, which in itself is a compliment to all concerned. Although it is good to get back to whatever passes for normal in our lives after a vacation, a good vacation is one you do not want to see come to a close. This was one of those. In the process of their visit Olaf, Anneke, Peter and Kim got to see America's top three National Parks, (in order of ranking) Yellowstone, Yosemite and Glacier. They got to see a bison hold up traffic for half an hour in Yellowstone, a grizzly bear almost casually chasing after mountain goats in Glacier. They got to see Old Faithful and the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, El Capitan and Half Dome in Yosemite, and got to drive up Going to the Sun Road to Logan Pass and then hike to Hidden Lake in Glacier. And they got to shop. We learned that half our party has the shopping gene but half does not. The second half was mercifully patient and cooperative with the first. And Peter, on a quest for the true American hamburger, got to experience home made in Monterey, Elk and Bison burgers in Gardiner, and the best regular beef in the world at Norm's News in Kalispell, where the motto is “Life is short; eat dessert first.” They also experienced the typical Fifties milkshake at Norm's replete with cherry on top and sidecar, but discovered that the milkshake at Glacier Perks in Lakeside where we live (and Diane works) is better even than Norm's. All in all, they and we got to share many simple yet fun things. Best of all, we shared each other's time, passions and interests with much common ground. Thirteen days going from two to six seem daunting on the surface, but these people are easy keepers and wonderful guests. And Meg and Jane, our dog and cat, loved them! The only damper on the whole trip was the air quality. With Washington State on fire, smoke has drifted over almost the entire northwest of Montana and hung there for days and days. Fires in our area even closed the road to Essex alongside the lower edge of Glacier and one day caused the airport to cancel incoming flights. It has never been this bad for this long, the locals tell me. So the Rockies became the Smokey Mountains of Montana for essentially the whole time our family was here. Otherwise, we would have gone to Glacier more than the two trips we did make, and would have found and hiked new trails. We would have gone to Many Glaciers, all the way around the perimeter of the park. Still, we had a great time despite the smoke in our eyes.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Duck, Donald!

Duck, Donald! The Donald may be done. His remarks to and later about Megyn Kelly during the RNC-Fox Debate are un-Presidential at best, if not outright sexist. The poor billionaire felt picked upon and singled out, and responded in typically unpleasant Trump fashion. The anger he speaks to as a candidate may now turn on him. He already sounded racist, now he adds misogyny. I am no fan of Fox News. I think of it as the network Jon Stewart used to parody and Rachel Maddow just shakes her head at night after night, both merely by playing Fox News clips. But I thought the questions their moderators posed were amazingly precise, aimed at deeper questions Republican voters had for each in turn. Mr. Trump was not singled out, as far as I could see. Each candidate faced tough questions asking him to explain his worth to America as a candidate despite this fact or that statement. The debate began with a loaded question not posed by Ms. Kelly, whether any of the candidates could not rule out a third party run. Only one raised his hand. After that, Trump was on his own, but he chose it. His answers were evasive and not illuminating regarding any concrete policies or agenda. In fact, he sounded like a politician. After the dust settled, the subject of conversation has not been Marco Rubio’s appalling position on abortion, or Mike Huckabee and Lindsey Graham hawkish view that our military is too weak and war with Iran is desirable. The fact remains that the candidate discussed most in America post debate remains Donald Trump. Wake up America! Pay attention!

And on the Subject of Iran

Listening to the first Republican Presidential debates, it struck me (although it did not surprise me) how completely and uncompromisingly opposed to the Iran Nuclear Deal these sixteen gentlemen and lone lady are. I understand the opposition: the Republicans are vehemently opposed to anything Democratic President Obama does or tries to do. Do not confuse these folks with facts. They will just state categorically the opposite as if it was the truth instead. It is disconcerting to read that even members of the President’s own party are rallying in opposition. Iran is a hot button issue, so much so that certain members of Congress and others interested in the Executive Office are clamoring for all out war. It amazes that these same, supposedly intelligent and considered individuals choose to believe that not only has our President bought a bill of goods, so have China, Russia, the United Kingdom, France and Germany. So has the entire Security Council of the United Nations. These same individuals, on both sides of the aisle, seem to believe that an Iran unchecked and unmonitored is less dangerous than one which is carefully checked and monitored. They seem to believe that lifting sanctions as an incentive for expected behavior means those sanctions will not be imposed again if Iran fails to live up to its side of the bargain. They further seem to believe that our President has gone to bed with the hardliners in Iran who oppose the deal themselves. It is a quagmire of convenient thinking, a battlefield for idiots. Have they even read the document? Either these men and women are stupid, or something else is motivating their supposed angst, and they would have you and me as terrified of Iran as we once were told to be of Iraq. The passions run high. These men and women want war. They want huge conventional fighting forces that can mobilize at a moment’s notice. They have no idea of what the real world is like now, even after the mixed results of the past dozen years of fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. They think they can fight yesterday’s wars tomorrow. In the bargain, the United States, still by far the most powerful military force on the planet, looks less and less like a leader and more and more like a bully. The supreme irony would be if the United States Congress managed to stonewall this carefully negotiated deal or scuttle it altogether. At that point the Rogue Nation in the world would be us.

An Open Letter to Congress: War

An Open Letter to the Members of the United States Congress -- The War Within the States: It seems almost unanimous that all of you fear the threat of foreign acts of terror on United States soil. It is correct and proper to show concern and vigilance. Yet the total number of people killed in gun-related violence in America in just the past forty-eight hours is almost double the number of Americans killed by foreign-instigated acts of terrorism since the 9-11 attacks. Get your heads out of the sand. Better still, stop distracting a nervous public from the greater danger facing us: it is a war out there. Americans are at war with each other and with themselves. Gun deaths (murder and suicide) exceed 400,000 since the Trade Towers fell. That is 133 times more than died on that tragic day. Since that day, despite two protracted wars, the threat of ISIS today, and the activities of every terrorist both foreign and domestic, fifty times more Americans have died on our own streets and in our own homes, by our own hands, than perished in those wars. You can say: well, people will kill themselves and each other regardless. But guns, and handguns in particular, make that decision both immediate and irreversible. No other civilized country has violence statistics close to ours: it really is a war out there. And each statistic is a life cruelly and permanently aborted. Stronger gun control legislation is imperative. The bloodbath goes on and on, our culture calls this the new normal. We cannot allow that to be. You each have a semblance of power to effect meaningful changes and thereby save lives and guide our society to an evolution in attitude. There are reasonable steps that can be taken if bold men and women decide to take them. The killings must cease. The culture of killing must change. As legislators, you must find a way. The blood is on your hands every day you ignore, equivocate, postpone, or simply choose not to act.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

ANNIVERSARIES: Hiroshima, Voting, Hearts and Debates

Today, August 6, is a propitious day. It was seventy years ago today that the city of Hiroshima was destroyed by the first ever attack with an atomic bomb. Fifty years ago today, the Voting Rights Act was signed into law by then President Lyndon Baines Johnson. This evening marks the first annual Fox News Decides Who Runs For President Among Republicans Debate. Six months ago today, I suffered my heart attack and I have not been the same since. I look the same. I act pretty much the same. But I have lost some of my stamina, my energy, my desire, my interest, my drive. I have them still, but they are just not as keen as they were. I find I just would rather not than do. Part of this, I am certain and I have been assured, is part of recovery, and that recovery cannot be set to a timetable. Part of it is chemicals – the chemical composition of my brain that tends toward anxiety and depression anyway. I think of myself as an exuberant individual, but now I feel subdued. I feel as though I woke up on February 7 in an alternate universe where Donald Trump is running for President of the United States; where cavemen govern Congress; where Winter came and went decades ago; where thousands of people can be displaced for the sake of a sporting event; where a country that once pledged never to start a war now seems poised to make it their business; where violence is accepted with a shrug: we just can’t help it, it’s just who we are. I still like to read, to watch, to listen, to comment, but the edge is gone. At least, the edge is shrinking proportionately to the realization that my power to affect change, or effect it, is also diminishing if it ever existed at all. I am still curious about politics and history and science, but I live in a world where fires of all kinds are burning out of control and I choke on their drifting smoke – and it makes me profoundly, desperately and utterly sad.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Fanfare for the Common Man

I learned early on that only a handful of names make the history books, and among those only a handful are remembered outside those pages. The common man – the common soldier, peasant, farmer, laborer, science researcher, letter carrier, teacher, Little League coach, homemaker, doctor, artisan, courtesan – does not. In our commonness, we scream for attention, and each of us is indeed exceptional – which means, of course, that no one is exceptional. But that’s okay: the common man and woman are the backbone, the foundation and the fertilizer of history, necessary and invaluable to the continuation of what is human. No individual life is common. Each is unique. I also learned that history is an agreed upon lie written chiefly by the victors, and that hating your enemy is far more effective than feeling indifferent. All men are brothers, I have heard it said. Even more importantly, no men are strangers unless they choose to be. Yet we see each other as enemies. Our enemy today could easily become our ally tomorrow against our ally today – it happens. In the confusion that creates the names remembered in our history books, the common man fights his brother, kills and dies and does terrible things while the truth is hidden under thick clouds of propaganda and hateful speech, again and again and again. There is nothing unique in that. It is old men who dream of blood, but young men who shed it. Let the old ones do the fighting and see how long the war lasts.